How Technology Changes Us

After my World After Advertising keynote, I had a great interview by Horizon which came out in a print edition back in March 2011. I took me some time to get in translated, but it was totally worth the wait — they did a great job capturing SapientNitro’s thinking on marketing, media, and technology.

SapientNitro mastermind Rob Gonda talks about marketing in the digital age and the declining importance of mass media By Santiago Campillo-Lundbeck

At the World After Advertising conference in Düsseldorf, Rob Gonda tried to shock the public by saying that traditional advertising is dead. In an interview, though, Gonda, who is SapientNitro’s Global Head of Creative Technology, gave us a more complex picture of the communication revolution sparked off by the internet and how marketing has to respond.

Horizon: Your job is to find opportunities worldwide for SapientNitro to creatively use technology in marketing. Why has technology become a strategic issue in digital marketing all of a sudden?

RG: People’s relationship with technology is the critical issue. Technology changes our habits and so it’s only logical that technology also changes the way we see brands. Technology puts new filters between customers and brands.

Horizon: What’s new about that? A TV commercial is also, in essence, a filter between consumers and companies.

RG: The difference is that digital technology has a much greater impact on the brand experience than traditional marketing ever could have had. Nowadays, the bulk of interactions with my bank are actually with an ATM or online banking. In the U.S., only four percent of all customers aged between 15 and 50 know any of their bank’s employees by name. And without a personal bank advisor, mainly what’s left to shape brand awareness is the bank’s technological interfaces.

Horizon: Aren’t you just adding new meaning to simple customer service features? Brand awareness has always been one of the core tasks of advertising.

RG: That’s not going far enough. Brand loyalty is largely built on the real experiences the consumer has with the brand. And there is often a huge gap between how the company sees itself and the real picture, given the digital options that are theoretically available. 80 percent of all CEOs believe that their brand provides a superior user experience. Yet only 8 percent of customers agree, on average.

Horizon: Is that proof that traditional advertising as we know it is officially on its deathbed?

RG: No, advertising will not die, but it does have to change. Brand building is just as important as it was before. But you can’t just shout out your messages any more. Brands have to become part of their users’ way of life or build loyalty by being useful.

Horizon: That sounds like a good idea. But how would it work in practice?

RG: As we have been saying for years, the important thing is to give the right message to the right people at the right time. A marketer can use digital touchpoints such as smartphones to provide consumers with customized messages right when they need them. For example, if my cell phone knows from my social community that my wife’s birthday is coming up, it could display coupons for flower shops nearby. That type of marketing works because it is useful.

Horizon: That type of marketing also reaches deep into the private lives of consumers.

RG: For it to work, consumers will need to see the benefits it offers. A personalized financial management service increases in value for the consumer with the more personal financial data they disclose. The more data that is available, the more relevant the recommendations will be. Marketing needs to succeed in showing that, then acceptance will grow.

Horizon: Currently, old and new media are waging a battle on which is more valuable for brand building. What advantages do old media still have, in your view?

RG: I think this is an increasingly irrelevant debate because the digital and physical touchpoints are getting progressively closer. For example, if a store window displays QR codes that refer to information online, is that a digital or a physical touchpoint? The real challenge today will be to develop a marketing platform that integrates analog-physical touchpoints and digital touchpoints. The digital formats will be the ones driving innovation though; there is a budget of 50 billion dollars available for digital advertising. And that is the goal that media marketers should be concentrating on. So it is “business as usual” for the advertising industry, just with different advertising media? Digitization will inevitably change the advertising industry. The future will be a lot less about mass media. Wide-reach media are no longer the only media with a communication value, they are just a part of the context needed in the digital world to really make a marketing message relevant. They are shifting from an anchor position to just being another link in the chain of the brand building process.

Horizon: What does that mean, in real terms, for those involved?

RG: The advertising environments of the mass media are increasingly becoming a bulk commodity and they will be treated that way as time goes on. Traditional media will be facing changes too. Newspapers will need to find new business models and television will have to develop into an addressable media.

Horizon: Marketers are confronted with new communication platforms every year. What else do we need to get ready for?

RG: We are currently in a phase in which marketing technology, the Mobile Web and cloud computing are becoming relevant to the mass media. 2015 will see the beginning of the Semantic Web, with the Internet of Things starting by 2020 at the latest. And the range of exciting new options is much wider than that. The video-game controller Windows Kinect presents completely new intuitive possibilities for users to move around in a story. This is already causing a revolution in the user’s gaming experience, so you can imagine the impact it could have on marketing.